WHO calls on all countries to prioritize monitoring SARS-CoV-2 infection in wildlife
As a general precaution, people should not approach or feed wild animals or touch or eat those that are orphaned, sick or found dead (including road kills).
Published: 08th March 2022 06:50 PM | Last Updated: 08th March 2022 06:50 PM | A+A A-
GENEVA: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday said that current knowledge indicates that wildlife does not play a significant role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in humans, but spread in animal populations can affect the health of these populations and may facilitate the emergence of new virus variants.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is driven by human-to-human transmission, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is also known to infect animal species, WHO warned.
"As we enter the third year of the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 is spreading between people at an intense level globally. There are many factors that are driving transmission. One of these is the emergence of highly transmissible variants of concern, the latest being Omicron. The virus continues to evolve and the risk of future emergence of variants is high," a statement issued by WHO said.
In addition to domestic animals, free-ranging, captive or farmed wild animals such as big cats, minks, ferrets, North American white-tailed deer and great apes have thus far been observed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2. To date, farmed mink and pet hamsters have been shown to be capable of infecting humans with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and a potential case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human is currently under review.
The introduction of SARS-CoV-2 to wildlife could result in the establishment of animal reservoirs. For example, it has been reported that, approximately one-third of wild white-tailed deer in the United States of America have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, initially via several human-to-deer transmission events. The SARS-CoV-2 lineages detected in white-tailed deer have also been circulating in close-by human populations. White-tailed deer have been shown to shed virus and transmit it between each other.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and WHO call on all countries to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between humans and wildlife with the aim of reducing the risk of variant emergence and for protecting both humans and wildlife.
We urge authorities to adopt relevant regulations and disseminate previously released recommendations by FAO, OIE and WHO to (1) people working in close contact with or handling wildlife, including hunters and butchers; and (2) the public.
Personnel working closely with wildlife should be trained to implement measures that reduce the risk of transmission between people and between people and animals, using WHO advice on how to protect oneself and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and OIE and FAO guidelines on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and good hygiene practices around animals, including good hygiene practices for hunters and butchers.
Current evidence suggests that humans are not infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus by eating meat. However, hunters should not track animals that appear sick or harvest those that are found dead. Appropriate butchering and food preparing techniques, including proper hygiene practices, can limit transmission of coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, and other zoonotic pathogens.
FAO, OIE and WHO stress that the public should be educated about contact with wildlife. Some wild animals may come close to human settlements and residential areas. As a general precaution, people should not approach or feed wild animals or touch or eat those that are orphaned, sick or found dead (including road kills). Instead, they should contact local wildlife authorities or wildlife health professional.
It is also crucial to safely dispose of uneaten food, masks, tissues, and any other human waste to avoid attracting wildlife, especially to urban areas and, if possible, keep domestic animals away from wildlife and their droppings.